MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian doping whistleblower Yulia Stepanova's application to compete as an individual athlete has been accepted, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) said on Friday.
The former drug cheat's revelations helped expose the massive doping problem in her country and the middle-distance runner left Russia and went into hiding after disclosing the issue.
Stepanova looks likely now to make a comeback as early as July 6 in the 800 metres after European Athletics approved her participation in the continental championships in Amsterdam.
She is due to hold a news conference on Monday in the Dutch city, together with the president of European Athletics Svein Arne Hansen.
The IAAF said its doping review board unanimously accepted Stepanova's application, adding that it had received more than 80 formal requests from Russian athletes seeking exceptional eligibility to compete in an individual capacity.
"Stepanova is now eligible to compete in international competitions as an independent neutral athlete," the IAAF said in a statement.
European Athletics said it recognised Stepanova's "exceptional contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes" and cleared her to compete in Amsterdam next week.
"If Stepanova takes her place in Amsterdam, she will compete under the European Athletics flag and is scheduled to compete in the first round of the women's 800m on Wednesday 6 July," European Athletics said in a statement.
It was still unclear, however, if the middle-distance runner would now be eligible to compete at the Rio Olympics, with the IAAF saying it was up to organisers to decide.
"Ms Stepanova's participation as a neutral athlete in international competition is still subject to acceptance by the organiser of the competition in question, in accordance with the rules of that competition," the IAAF said.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it would study the decision once it received the file from the IAAF.
"The IOC has taken note of the IAAF press release," it said in a statement.
"As said before, the IOC will carefully study the case of Ms. Stepanova once the IAAF has passed on the file with all the available information as requested by the IOC."
The World Anti-Doping Agency said it was pleased with the IAAF Doping Board’s decision to allow Stepanova to compete.
"Ms Stepanova has clearly made a truly exceptional contribution to protection of clean athletes, and so we fully support the decision," the body said on Twitter.
"We now look forward to seeing Ms Stepanova participating in international competitions as a neutral athlete."
The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) also applauded the IAAF ruling.
"The decision sends a powerful message that clean sport matters, and that those who choose to step up and do the right thing will be treated with the respect and decency they deserve," USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement.
Russian track and field athletes are suspended from competing anywhere after a series of reports, triggered by Stepanova's revelations, painted a picture of systematic doping in the country and led to the launch of several investigations.
The IAAF has said only some Russian track and field athletes fulfilling exceptional criteria, including repeated drugs testing outside Russia, can take part in the Rio Games under a neutral flag.
The IOC, however, insists any Russian track and field athlete cleared to compete in the Games starting on Aug. 5 would do so under the country's flag, appeasing Moscow in the run-up to the Rio Games.
More than 65 Russian athletes have since filed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, saying they should not be punished along with drugs cheats.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ed Osmond)